Lover's Key, Florida

Lover's Key, Florida

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Thursday, March 31, 2011


It's another bright, sunny, cold morning.  One of these mornings I'll look out the window and see the yard in full bloom, think about getting the lawn mower going, do some planting.  Not yet; the sun keeps moving north and things get warmer, it's inevitable, just not yet.

My friend Terry said something that comforts me.  I always want to feel the pain, I want her presence in my life to never be gone.  Makes sense to me.  This isn't an easy thing, this getting over the loss of this person who, in some ways, was at the core of my being.  People who knew us always comment on how we did everything together,  and we did.  It will never be easy to "get over" that.

I had a nice long workout at the gym this morning; that always does wonders as far as elevating my mood is concerned.  This afternoon Story Time Players, good to be a little busy.  I've been thinking lately about how some people choose to deal with their grief over the death of a loved one by becoming involved in a totally different lifestyle.  I suppose that at some point that will be an option for me, but at this time it would seem like the easy way out and would dishonor the love of my life, Gwen.  It is OK, I think, to be easy on one's self where the hard stuff is concerned.  I recently attended a concert where one of the acts was named Po' Girls, two young women who did most of the singing and two guys who played backup music.  One of their song has this line in it, When it's hard, better go easy.  I get that.  To honor Gwen and fully complete the process of grieving her death it will be necessary to encounter some hard things, like yesterday's overwhelming feelings of sadness and loneliness, and to face them in an easy way,  resist the urge to force and hurry things.  I think this poem is about that:


It might have been easier
to get over it quickly
put aside her pictures
throw away all those letters
and cards
things that remind me
of what can no longer be.

But then,
what becomes of
and, oh, her touch,
even sounds
of her existence?

As the song says,
when it's hard, go easy. . .

John A. Bayerl, March 13, 2011

It will be OK to always feel some pain, to always have you in my memory.  It will be hard, but we can go easy like we did when we lived it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Days like this.

All day today I've been humming the old 60s song, Momma Said There'd Be Days Like This.  I'm stuck in some kind of funk that I can't seem to shake.  After attending my writing group this afternoon,--I always enjoy that, but today I was kind of frumpy-- I stopped at Zimmerman's for one of their famous Reuben sandwiches, and even that didn't cheer me.  There were too many memories of great times Gwen and I shared there.  Some of it is the weather, I know, it's pretty gloomy and cloudy today, but mostly it's just coming to grips, again, with the fact that Gwen meant so much to me and she is no longer with me.  So, I swept the floor in the garage, something she always asked me to do after the long winter.  Now I have a nice clean garage floor and half a Reuben sandwich in the refrigerator.  I'll embrace the sadness, it can't last forever.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


It's been another busys morning.  First, breakfast with a friend, then, while browsing in Whole Foods, I was greeted by another old friend.  She and I sat and talked for a long time.  The women who clean my house have just arrived, so I'll soon be off to the gym.  Maybe I'll also see a movie.  I'ts another of those sunny, cold days, so, as much as I'd like to go for a bike ride,  there's still not much that can be done out-of-doors.

A friend from church whom I know through the bereavement group I attended at Arbor Hospice got in touch with me, and we plan to meet later this week to talk about stuff.  We agree that we are both experts on the topic of regression, meaning that, as she states it, grief is not linear, it sneaks up and overwhelms, seemingly out of nowhere.  Then there's the whole matter of the sense of incompleteness I feel when I think about what happens next.  Gwen wants me to get on with my life, and I think about that, but so far I don't have a clear sense of direction about where I might be headed.  There's an old Quaker saying that I like, A way will show.  Meanwhile, I enjoy writing about all this, even though most of it is pretty raw and incomplete.  This poem is about that:


Way more than a hundred days
gone by without her.

Look about.  What do I see?
snatches of poems on scrap paper,
pieces of poetry on pads, partial
poetry is everywhere,
all of it incomplete, unfinished,
not good enough to be abandoned.

Is that what I have to show for it?
All those days of missing her?
Words scattered here and there.

John A. Bayerl, March 2, 2011

I can't help but remember how we talked about completing each other.  It's no surprise then that I find myself with this feeling of incompleteness.  You really did make my life complete in more ways than I ever realized.

Monday, March 28, 2011


It's been another busy day.  Golf lesson first thing this morning, Dave, the instructor, is just plain amazing.  In an hour I may swing the club maybe 30 times.  Yet, there is progress.  Maybe it's his patience that I admire most of all.  Speaking of which, I think I need people to be patient with me, this has been another of those days when I seem to have regressed a bit.  There's no other way to say it, I miss my wife all the time.  Those who tell me how she's in a better place mean well, and I have to believe that the love we shared for all those years doesn't simply end with death.  But, she's no longer here, and I miss her.

This morning, after the golf, I went to the gym, and was there at a time when many of the people were there who knew Gwen when she would go to workouts there with me.  In a funny sort of way I find myself resenting their presence and their well-meaning attempts to engage me in conversation.  I'm just not ready for that yet, and I don't quite know how to handle it, so, I avoid it, but it's deeper than that, as this poem tries to describe:


I can’t look them in the eyes,
those who wish me well,
I’m not usually rude like that,
I just can’t do it—

not yet, I feel like
when they see my eyes
they see my soul, and
my soul’s not ready for that,
not now, it still feels pain
every day, every hour, every breath
I take reminds me I’m alive
and she’s not, here with me.

It can’t be hurried, or rushed.
The precious loneliness can’t be shared,
discovered, with a glance, a look, a stare.
I have no choice, I look aside,
I look down, I look away.
Better to be rude.

John A. Bayerl, March 27, 2011

A long time ago you said these words to me:  I love you and will always miss you when you're not with me.  Forever.  I wish we didn't ever have to be apart.  Now it is I who says those words every day; not in a melodramatic way, but simply stating a fact, I miss you and wish we didn't ever have to be apart.  But we are.  We are.  That's just the way it worked out, and now we're into the forever part.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Memories of My Mother

Between NCAA basketball and a nice visit with my sister Terri and Roy, her husband, I haven't been able to sit down and write until later than usual.  Right now it feels kind of good to get organized and write a little bit about what it's like being me.  We all deal with life in different ways, and it seems to be good for me to express myself in this way.

It seems like I'm always discovering things.  I think it's because I finally have time to sort through years of accumulated "treasures."  When my mother died, my brother Dick did an absolutely fantastic job of arranging a beautiful ceremony at her wake the night before her funeral.  For some reason, I wasn't much involved in the preparations, but I certainly remember well the wake as a most comforting and inspiring event.  I also remember how grateful I always have been that my sister Cookie was such a good caregiver for mom.  It was more than an accident of geography or her  nursing background that contributed to the love she showed during mom's long illness.  She certainly deserves much credit and praise for being there for mom. Today I remembered the last time Gwen and I visited mom at the nursing home,  shortly before she died.  Her last words to me were, "Take good care of Gwen and the kids."  I have always appreciated what a gift it was that she gave me with those words.  That simple request of hers has guided me throughout my life and continues to do so today.  I was particularly reminded of this today when I had a long talk with Jeanne about the vacation she and her family just completed in Dubai. Where and what don't matter so much as does the mere doing of memorable things with those you love.  I am learning now how important those memories become later in life.  

Among the songs that were sung and readings that were read at my mother's wake, this  has great meaning to me now as I continue my struggle to bring what my friend Dave calls resolution and wholeness to the process.

If you would indeed behold the spirit of death,
open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one,
even as the river and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires
lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
and like seeds dreaming beneath the snow
your heart dreams of spring.
Trust your dreams,
for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.

For what is it to die
but to stand naked in the wind
and to melt into the sun.
And what is it to cease breathing,
but to free the breath from its restless tides,
that it may rise and expand
and seek God unencumbered.

Only when your drink from the river of silence
shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top,
then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs,
then shall you truly dance.

Kahlil Gibran

Read at the wake for my mother, April, 1974

Mom really liked and respected Gwen, she saw her as someone who brought much needed common sense to her son.  She was right.  Today at mass we sang a hymn called Come to The Water, a favorite of Gwen's.  It's always those little reminders that fill me with such poignant and wholesome reminders of all that I've lost and miss.  Truly you are dancing now my dear.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


At least the sun is shining.  After an unusually long and cold winter, those are the words that cheer us.  It's only 15 degrees, but doggone it the sun is shining.  This morning I'm going to attend one of the Saturday Morning Physics lectures at UM with brother Dick.  This lecture is on new discoveries in particle physics.  These talks are billed as accessible to common folks,  like me,  in easy-to-understand, non-technical language.  I think, however, that the common folks to whom they refer are those who came into the world with the mathematics gene intact and part (Or, should I say particle?) of their DNA.  Anyway, it is always fun to watch the well bred and educated line up like commoners  to  get their free jelly donuts.  That part I understand, from then on it's all downhill.  I thought that a quark is a sound that a duck with a sore throat makes.

Now I'm home from the lecture.  A delightful young woman physicist gave the lecture.  She attended Reed College, so that gave me hope that some of what she would say might be intelligible to a commoner like me.  Then, she began her talk by saying, "I'm gonna talk some physics with you."  Now things were really looking up until she showed her first "cartoon",.  The thing that made it a cartoon  , I suppose was that it was in color and there were drawings and symbols and the like.  Then she talked about positrons and neutrons and quarks and ups and downs and b-flavored particles, etc.  She also works with the huge particle collider in Switzerland, I believe is where it is.  Apparently, what they do there is to make two really tiny things go in opposite directions until they meet and go boom.  Then the number and type of remnants from that collision are counted.  She didn't talk about what becomes of the information thus acquired.   Mostly, I enjoy observing who attends these lectures, like the guy next to me who brought this big, brown, paper grocery bad filled with two containers of yogurt.    And, it was fun to watch them all line up for the free jelly donuts. Best of all,  it's always good doing things with brother Dick.

One more thing to do today, I'm going to a meeting at Arbor Hospice on the topic of downsizing.  I'll give it a shot.  The rest of this weekend is set aside for taxes.  I know I've been resisting that because I don't want to have to report the death of my spouse.  I really do miss her so much.

Friday, March 25, 2011


It's been another busy day.  First the gym, then a quick meeting with friends from the old Forestbrooke  days before heading out to Dexter for a lunch and tour of The Cedars of Dexter.  I may want to consider moving there when the time is right.  Then, since I was already out that way, I took the obligatory visit to the place we owned on Baseline Lake.  Unexpectedly, there was a double dose of sadness when I also drove near the Dexter Veterinary Clinic where I took Max last year.  I found myself missing him and would have even welcomed his panting from the back seat.  Hold up, kids, I didn't miss him enough to want to get another one!  All of my memories of the home on the lake are happy ones.  Those were wonderful years, and we had many good times entertaining family and friends there.  I parked on the road for a while and remembered all those times with my sweetheart of a wife and the times when the kids came home for special events or parties.  Of course there were tears.

I was feeling a little uneasy since getting home, and then I knew why.  It's a sunny Friday afternoon, like that Friday afternoon last November.   Those memories die hard.  As I was reminded of that ending, I was also reminded of a much happier time right at the beginning of our marriage, the night of our wedding.    We stayed at  motel in Crystal Falls,  the name of which far surpassed its reality: The Valley View Motel.  It was kind of up on a hill right there at the city limits and there was a bit of a view of an open valley of sorts.  Needless to say, the view was the farthest thing from our minds. After the hullabaloo of the wedding ceremony and reception, even after the sex, or might I say especially after the sex. (I know, kids, I'll bet you wish you'd have stopped at the part about the dog.),  I have this memory that always brings me peace.  It is a memory of lying close to my new bride and feeling completely relaxed and at peace and as sure as I could be that this was meant to be.  I'm sure many people who have experienced an intimate physical relationship have felt this.  And, I remember thinking that this is how I want to end each day for as long as the two of us are together, with this feeling of peace and harmony.   I suppose there are those who might ask what the point might be in reviving memories like this.  I don't think that anyone who grieves the loss of a love intentionally sets out to remember all the details of that life of love--it just happens sometimes.  And, speaking only for me, I don't think it is possible to complete the grieving process in a healthy manner without reliving what it is that is lost. This is a poem that's been simmering about this topic:


 Our first night together
we lay next to each other
as close to one as two can be.

Who she was filled the contours
and made soft the edges,
of who I was and ever would be,
and we discovered love's serenity
in the simple, easy way lovers do.

Now is time for the wedding vows:
This is what we've been waiting for.
Is all we said, and nothing more
needed saying or could be said.
John A. Bayerl, March 22, 2011

It was perfect, having you next to me, no need for sleeping pills or counting sheep.  I got out the calculator and did some figuring; we had more than 17,000 nights like that.  What I wouldn't do for just one more night.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Quick Note

It's been an awfully busy past 24 hours, I'll make a longer post tomorrow.  Last night I really enjoyed attending the concert at the Ark.  Peter Mulvey was totally entertaining and an amazing musician.  I talked with him a bit after the show and found him to be  a most genuine person.  The surprise was the other act that performed, Po' Girl is a band of two women and two men.  They are all multi-talented, playing everything from a clarinet to a gut bucket bass.  Their singing brought tears to my eyes more than once.  Their lead singer, a young, French-Canadian woman from Montreal also chatted with me afterwards and I found her to be a most caring, empathetic person.  And man, can she sing!

Tonight I attended the opera Little Women, under the auspices of the UM School of Music.  My choir director from church had a role as one of the four sisters.  I was fortunate to have three of my bestest friends from the support group I formerly attended accompany me in style.  Thanks, Mary, Mary and Liz; also for the meal before.  Now it's time to slow down a little for the weekend.

It's late, more in the morning, I feel a poem coming on.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


There are always things to look forward to.  Today it's my memoir-writing class and this evening I'm being brave and attending a concert at The Ark, alone.  The performer is Pete Mulvey, a folk singer of sorts. Son Mike and I have enjoyed his songs, especially the one about blowing up the elevator at Prange's.  As always, I look forward to this sort of thing with great ambivalence.  Gwen and I loved live performances of any kind, so it's hard to do this without her.  Yet, life goes on, and I have to find what I can enjoy and be comfortable doing.

I said that life goes on, and, indeed it does, yet it goes on in such a different way for those of us who grieve.  I told a friend yesterday that what the world is allowed to see has to be so different from what's going on inside each one of us.  The pain is a constant presence, it seems inescapable at this time.  Gee, that sounds maudlin, and I don't think that's how I meant it.  It's not a "here today, gone tomorrow" kind of thing at all.  There are still times when I completely melt down and wallow in it.  Those times have become less frequent, but one never know when they will come knocking on the door.  All I know is that I need to own it every time it occurs.  It's kind of like this little poem:


Every now and then
I get a glimpse of the future.
Making my way without you.

A friend, whose husband died,
three years ago,
tells me she’s doing fine

But I know she’s lying,
about the pain,
it’s all inside now.

John A. Bayerl, February 15,  2011

It's kind of a cold, icy day for late in March.  It reminds me of something you said in a letter a long time ago: It's snowing in April, but even that can't put out the glow of spring you put into my heart by saying you love me. Was that special, or what?  We really would say stuff like that to each other.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I incorrectly titled my posting the other day.  This one really is about driving down a familiar road.  Gwen and I had many an exciting road trip together.  Back in 1963, before we were married,  we drove from Gaastra to Ann Arbor where I had an interview for graduate school.  Quite an adventure in those days.  I believe we stayed with Ted and Jackie in Lansing, and also spent time with Dick and Mary.  Then, a year later the trip to Reedsville, Wisconsin, followed a year later by one of three trips to Oregon.  Even later there were trips to Boston, New York, Florida, and, a particularly memorable one when we drove Mike to Austin, Texas, for a diving meet.  It was August, hot, and our, little Renault Le Car didn't have air conditioning.  A fairly recent trip that I remember fondly was when we flew out to Colorado and then Bob and Jeanne lent us their Honda for a trip to the Grand Canyon and several other points of interest.

I always enjoyed driving, and even now look forward to some road trips this spring and summer.  Gwen enjoyed seeing new things, but was always more concerned about getting to the destination than she was about enjoying the ride.  She would often nap; I didn't mind, it gave me time to think and just enjoy being able to spend time together.  I miss that very much now that Gwen is gone; others who have lost a spouse tell me that it's often while in the car that a wave of grief will overtake them.  I wrote this poem about it:


It overwhelms me, sometimes,
that lonely, empty feeling.

Driving down a familiar road,
completely lost,
that’s how it makes me feel.

It never felt that way
with her at my side,
excited about what lay ahead;
the cottage, the U. P., something new.

Nibbling on orange cookies
from that place in Frankenmuth.
Making plans for the rest
of our life together.

I massage her neck, as she naps,
gently stroke her hair,
see her once again for the very first time.

The whine of the tires
on the steel grates of The Bridge
awakes her, confused for a moment.

It’s OK, I say, we’re
driving down a familiar road.

John A. Bayerl, March 20, 2011

The Bridge is, of course, The Mackinac Bridge, a destination for many Apple Knockers, but to us just another five miles, except for the time we walked  it on Labor Day.  It was always a welcome to God's Country for us.  How I loved those moments when I would see you again for the first time.  Maybe that's the hardest part about all of this, not being able to do that any longer.  

Monday, March 21, 2011


It's a Mozart kind of Monday morning. ( Resist the urge to go on with the alliteration: murky, moldy, miserable, misty, moist are words that come to mind.)  I'll get over to the gym this afternoon, but, for now, it's a good morning to reflect and remember and maybe even rejoice a bit. A friend sent me a poem about people growing old together, and a particular part of it caught my attention.  What that part said was: "True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be."  The last part of it, ". . .and will not be,"  is what is so difficult for those of us who grieve.  Gwen was young when she died, only 68 years old.  She was five years younger than I;  I've thought about the unfairness of that.  The irony does not escape me that she was sick for five years.  I take solace in and perhaps even rejoice  a little in knowing that we were able to spend those five years together, pretty much able to do whatever we chose.

One of the things I reflected on this morning was how much Gwen loved to tease me.  Beginning with, "You know what, John, maybe we should think about getting married."  Of course, that wasn't much of a tease after all, but at the time she made it sound that way.  She had that way of getting down to the truth with me. She understood true humility, praise where and when it was due, but never will I let you get too full of yourself.  What a gift she was to this basically insecure individual.  This poem about her teasing came to me this morning:


“Gee, John, I sure wish I knew
how everything is going to work out.
I wonder. . .”
She would tease me
with words like that.

Then add words like these:

“If I dream, I hope it’s of you.”

“We’d be millionaires if we got paid
every time we wished we were together.”

No more wondering, 
everything  worked out,
as in the end all things will.
We dreamed of each other often.
Gathered our millions in love notes.

She also left these words,
no teasing, sweet and simple.
I long to hear them every night.
“Good night, Hon,
all my love.

John A. Bayerl, March 21, 2011

All that will not be is a dream.  What was remains, and that is wonderful.  There really is no greater gift than the gift of love.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I'll Wait for You.

It's a cold, dark, rainy late afternoon, there's even a little thunder;  a good time to be as sad as I want to be.  And, I want to be sad for a while. It's still so hard not having that warm presence here with me.  I don't think I'm over-idealizing her.  We found each other and made it work and I miss all we had.

 I went to church this morning and again counted my blessings; four children who love and support me in every way possible, friends and relatives who look out for me, good health, a place to live, able to do everything I want. I even have friends all over the country and world who encourage and support me.  Who could ask for more?  Much to be grateful for.

Sally was in church with her daughter and her husband.  Don wasn't there.  Don's been getting radiation treatments for a brain tumor.  I hugged Sally, and she clung to me.  A side effect of the treatments is unwarranted, unexpected anger.  She reacts with resentment and anger of her own.  Who wouldn't?  I told her to own the anger.  She's earned it.  All of us who have felt the evil power of cancer have earned every bit of whatever we may feel at any given time.  So, I'm going to feel sad for a while longer.

These words just kind of came to me:

She was here
she mattered
she’s gone
that matters.

So, yes, I'll feel sad for a while longer.  I heard an old Bruce Springsteen song today, I'll Wait for You.  Sure means more now.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Today I spoke with Gwen's high school friend in Iron River.  It's always special to hear that strong Stambaugh accent.  It will be nice to visit with her and Gwen's other best friend, Rene, this summer.  There's something about their connection to Gwen that I find very comforting.

It's been a pretty easy day.  I attended a breakfast for volunteers at St. Mary Student Parish.  After that, a nice long workout at the gym, then I decided to just lie around the house and do some writing.  Words are starting to come back to me.

A former student at NMU who is now a counselor in the U. P. wrote and told me that she had seen Gwen's name in the NMU Alumni Magazine.  My copy came in the mail today, and there, listed under Deaths was the name Gwen Bayerl, 1962.   Seeing her name there, one of several other people who died, somehow diminished the fact of her death.  I want her to be remembered as the strong, assertive, caring, loving person that she was, not just a name in a magazine.  I know, that's not the way it's done.  She dropped out of NMU at the end of her sophomore year, so I was initially puzzled that she was listed as a 1962 graduate.  Then I remembered that she had been awarded an Associate's Degree in Business.

Today at the breakfast I talked with a friend who reminded me to cherish the special, loving relationship that Gwen and I had over the years.  As he put it it, sometimes the spouse left behind says, "I'm glad the bitch is gone."  Of course that happens, but it makes me heartsick to acknowledge it, and I really don't need to be reminded to cherish the love that Gwen and I were given.  In a letter to me way back in 1963 Gwen sent me this; she copied it from something she was reading:

No matter how often
I level the weed,
It returns after rain,
As if there is need
To remind men who sever
Life’s delicate string
That destruction is never
A permanent thing.
 In a letter from Gwen, Wednesday, February 21, 1963.

It's kind of beautiful now;  how prescient that was.  What a wonderful reminder from her so long ago that she is still with us ,"destruction is never a permanent thing."  Indeed it's not.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Another Busy Day

Today began with a drive over to Clarkston High School where I observed one of my student teachers from NMU.  When I arrived a young woman, paraprofessional, escorted me to the student's classroom.  On the way there I mentioned that I grew up in the U. P.  "So did I," she said.  "Where," I asked.  "Menominee," she replied.  "Me too," I said, "In Birch Creek."  "Oh my God," she said, "My parents live near Birch Creek, we go to Holy Spirit Church there."  "So did I."  Small world, eh?

Another nice day, so I played a little golf at Huron  Hills, just the front seven holes are open.  We all have to be somewhere, and there are worse places to be than on a golf course on a nice spring day.  Once again I had this feeling that Gwen was walking with me on the course.  I remembered when she was at Glacier Hills recuperating and I would stop at Huron Hills on my way over to see her.  It's so different now, no sense of urgency, still a little tad of guilt for some reason.  I don't know what the guilt is all about, it really doesn't matter; I could play golf from sunrise to sunset if I chose.  That's one of the hardest things to get used to with Gwen gone.  The complete and absolute freedom of not having to be anywhere or doing anything in particular.  One would think that would be enjoyable; it's not really, it's a weird, vaguely anxious feeling, like something's not quite right.  Of course, I know what it is, it's hard to go from being a care giver to being a carefree giver, or something like that.

It's Friday night; Gwen died on a Friday night.  It seems I'll never look at weekends the same way again; an awful lot got packed into that Friday night back in November. It's not necessarily all bad; it's just a lot of memories, some good, some not so good, all are important to the rest of my life.  Now I think I'll listen some Beethoven and then call it a day.  I'm going to get up early tomorrow morning and work on that poem about tears.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Long Ride Home

Bob, Jeanne, Nick and Izzy left for a vacation in Dubai today.  They called from the airport, and I had a nice talk with Jeanne and the kids.  I made them promise to take lots of pictures and videos to put on FB.

Sometimes it's amazing the way things happen.  This morning I went over to the gym and had a good workout.  Then, it was a really nice sunny day, so, rather than go right home, I decided to take a little ride over to a coffee shop in Saline that I like.  I'ts called The Drowsy Parrot.  On the way over I thought about my friend, Lou Thayer, who lives in Saline.  Lou was a colleague in the Leadership and Counseling Department at EMU for the 20 years I worked there as an adjunct lecture; he is one of the best, and I admire him greatly.  His wife died of cancer about three years ago and then about a year ago he was diagnosed with cancer and has been undergoing treatments.  I found myself regretting that I didn't have his phone number so that I could call and have him join me at the coffee shop.  As I was ordering my coffee, Lou walked in.  I pointed out that there are really no coincidences.  "Life is an endless series of intertwined events", is what he said.  No matter what, it made my heart feel so good to have that encounter with him.  He's continues being a treasured friend.

Early in the afternoon I participated with Story Time Players in a reading at Northside School, the school where Jim and Liz's Max, Luna, and Anna attended during their stay in Ann Arbor.  The temperature got up into the 60s today, and, right on schedule, my friend, Ed, called and suggested a round of golf.  We were able to get in nine holes and the weather remained fantastic.  Tonight was my online bereavement group.  Now, at last, a chance to unwind a bit.

Son Mike was so nice this morning.  He sent me an e-mail message with a song by Patti Griffin that I just love.  It's called Long Ride Home.  I found these lyrics particularly meaningful:

The house is dark as it can be
I go inside and all is silent
It seems as empty as the inside of me.

Although it is good to be busy doing things that I enjoy, I still face daily everything that's contained in those lyrics.    The golf course where we played is the same one where I played last fall on the day that Gwen died.  It was tough reliving all those memories. For just a brief moment, on the golf course, I had this wonderful feeling that Gwen was there with me, enjoying it.  That was so great.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Better Day

It's amazing what a little sunshine can do.  Things look a little brighter today even though there's a sad edge to the day because it would be so much better if Gwen were here to enjoy it with me.  Today I noticed that the hyacinths are poking their heads above the ground.   I can't help but think about how much she loved them, and looked forward to seeing them bloom each year.  And, of course, there was always that thing about whether or not she would see the flowers bloom each spring.

My golf  lesson this morning was wonderful.  Dave, my instructor, is one of those teachers who teaches by sneaking up on the student.  We don't  seem to be doing much, but all of a sudden I can do things differently and better. Later I met with my memoir-writing group, an amazing bunch of people.  There was a little teasing because of the article in the newspaper, but all in good humor.  Today I read a piece I wrote about Gwen's dad, Barney, and how I was finally able to gain his approval by ,with a lot of hard work from Gwen, typing and publishing his memoirs in the form of a book. I surprised myself by crying when I remembered how good it felt when he finally accepted me as a suitable husband for his daughter.   Of course, more sad memories; they're all gone now; Gwen and her parents.  I will always stay in touch with her brother and sister.

Lately I've been much more keenly aware of how much I miss my perfect partner.   Some of it has to do with a lot of things I wish I had done better, ways I wish I had been better. One thing was dancing.  Gwen was a really good at dancing; she tried to make me a better dancer, but I was too stubborn and proud to listen.   I wrote about it:


Wish I’d have danced better
for you,
you loved dancing so much
 were so good at it.

You saw something in me
you were willing to exchange for
smooth moves on the dance floor.
What a lucky guy.

John A. Bayerl, March 16, 2011

What I wouldn't give to have a dancing lesson with you right now.  I'm still working hard on trying to figure out how to be me without you--it's hard. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Just not today.

It's been a busy day.  The bereavement group from Arbor Hospice met for the eighth and final time.  We met at a restaurant; it was refreshing to see everyone in that kind of setting.  Those eight weeks sure flew by.  I enjoyed meeting everyone in the group, and look forward to getting together with them periodically.  

It's been really nice having Anne spend the last two nights with  me while she is working at her new job in Southfield.  Last night she and I and John and Amy and Brooke had dinner together, also a nice break in the routine.  Tonight Anne went to mass with me at  5:00 and then went to dinner with friends.  My friend Art and his wife Anne were there, and we went to dinner together afterwards.  

I've been sad all day; even a long workout at the gym didn't help much.  It's still the hardest thing I've ever done trying to figure out just who I am without my better half. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

I'm working on a couple of poems; tears and dancing are the themes.  More on the way, just not today, and that's OK.

Monday, March 14, 2011


My friend, Marie, has been at this longer than I.  I often saw her in church, and had heard that her husband died, but I really didn't know her real well.  She is in the bereavement group I've been attending, and, through our participation in the group, we've formed a bond.  (Oh no, another Mary.)  Anyway, Marie called today to ask about our group meeting tomorrow, and, in the course of that conversation, we talked about how as time goes by we sometimes miss our spouses more than ever  And, we cried.   Gosh, it's such a hard thing, this grieving.  I try to keep in mind that Gwen wants me to be strong and happy.  I try to  cherish fond memories of our special love and marriage.  Still it hurts to know that she isn't there sitting in the chair next to me. That's the hard, cold reality of it.

A while back I visited a gift store that Gwen and I had shopped in a year ago at Christmas.  This was the store where she surprised me by getting the figurine of a man and woman that I now cherish and have in a special place on the mantel.  It was another of those first times without her.  I'm learning that if I talk with people about this kind of experience they are always understanding and incredibly caring about it.


A  memory flood,
that gift shop
where you shopped for
my Christmas present.

Clearance, Christmas items,
memorial ornament,
faceless, heart of gold,
 “Kept forever in the heart.”

Best of all, sweetheart,
75% off.

I told the woman in the store,
the owner,
about our last visit there;
you in the wheelchair,
how special it was.

She cried,
gave me some expensive
one for you
one for me.
How sweet of her.

John A. Bayerl, 2-7-2011

Each time I have an experience like this it reminds me of how precious what we had was; something special  that we created and then nurtured and grew for our time together.  Of course I'm going to miss that--for a long, long time.  In one of her letters she said: I love you and will always miss you when you're not here with me.  Forever.  I like all of  that, especially the forever part.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Different Kind of Day

It's just been different today.  At mass this morning we sang On Eagles Wings, I couldn't get through it.  Too many memories.  My picture was in the paper today with an article about a writing group I attend.  I've heard from a lot of people.  Wonder what Gwen would think about that.  She was a pretty private person.

I've begun sorting through a folder I found that is full of poems I've written over the years.  Some of them are pretty old!  My plan is to clean them up, type them up; put them i n a file in my computer.  I wrote this one over 20 years ago, but it kind of describes my situation today as I try to live without Gwen at my side.

JOB CHANGE          

This kind of thing was
so much easier to do
when I was twenty five
years old.

Being more than twice
as smart
is not enough reward
for being less than
half as young.

Back then it was simpler.
I did what I did
for as long as it took
to do it.

Now, knowing more
about what I need to know,
I do what I can
and hope it’s enough.

God!  If they knew
I was sitting at my desk
writing poems
would I ever be able
to convinced them that
I’m only trying
to face fifty firmly?

John A. Bayerl, June 11, 1987

It kind of describes pretty well what it's like doing what I'm doing now as I try to satisfy the description for the job nobody wants.  Good night love.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Today it is four months since my 50 year love affair with my perfect mate ended here on earth.  It's not been an easy day, made more difficult by the fact that, purely by coincidence, a local veteran's charity came to pick up the last reminders of Gwen's illness.  This included walkers, a wheel chair, sanitary items, rubber gloves, a cane, and other paraphernalia.  I also got rid of some of my old clothing.  I've lost a quite a bit of weight, and I was able to get rid of a lot of my "fat" clothes.  Saddest of all, they also accepted books, and  I was able to give them all of Gwen's nursing books.  So, my life is a little less cluttered. And, a little more empty.  Some would say that there are no coincidences.

To honor Gwen's memory I spent time in the room where we spent the last couple of years, lay on the bed, stared at the ceiling she stared at for all those days, snuggled under my afghan and had a good cry.  Particularly poignant was my memory of the times I would read aloud to her from a novel.  She found that so relaxing and calming, particularly when I massaged her scalp at the same time.  Love made tangible.  The power of being connected by touch.  Maybe that's what I miss most, just being able to touch her.

There were certainly times when we cried.  I've been thinking about those times lately.  When she was diagnosed with diabetes and we lost the child she had been carrying for six months I recall a most tender time in her hospital room when I held her in my arms and we cried.  When she had spent two weeks at her parents home with our two young children while I drove to Oregon and got settled, and she then flew out with the two kids we had a joyful reunion, I held her in my arms and we cried. (This  remarkable.   As I am typing this my telephone rang, and it was one of our old friends from when I attended school in Oregon.  Her husband, my classmate then, died three years ago.  She called to see how I am doing.  Coincidence?) When we came home from the doctor after she had been told of her cancer I held her in my arms and we cried.  Early in our relationship when we shared intimate moments I would hold her in my arms and we would cry.  All of those times were blessed times when we became totally open to the love we shared, and, in a manner of speaking, everything, including tears,  leaked out.  That is the love that surpasses death.  Gwen and I made a habit of always hoping for the best.  A year before she died, I wrote this to her.  I didn't know then how true those words would ring a year later:


There are faith, hope and love.
It has been said that the greatest of these is love.
To be sure,        
we keep the faith
and love each other always.
It is hope that keeps us going
and binds us together in faith and love.

John A. Bayerl, November 15, 2009

I attended a meeting on Thursday and ran into an old friend of your from the OR at Kellogg Eye Center.  She hadn't heard about your death.  We had a good cry.  Like everyone else who knew you, she talked about what a wonderful person. You  never had an unkind word to say about anyone.  Way back when you sent me the picture you had taken when our engagement was announced, I wrote to you that when I saw the picture it was scary because you were so beautiful that I couldn't see how you could possibly have fallen in love with me; it made me the luckiest guy in the world.  I felt that way again when your friend said those nice things about you.  

Friday, March 11, 2011


Tomorrow is one of those anniversaries we who grieve gather like charms on a bracelet.  It will be four months since Gwen died.  In recognition of that,  I will gear back my posts to this blog site.  It would be too simple to say it's time to move on.  One simply doesn't advance in that sense.  Yesterday I heard  someone say that the event of death is very different from the permanence of death.  That is so true.  It's one thing to abstractly say that my wife died four months ago, it's quite another to get up each morning and realize all over again that she's no longer on the face of the earth.  Similarly, it's one thing to say that Gwen and I loved each other; it's quite another to have the time now to reflect on that love in all the ways it showed itself to be true.  In one of the groups I participate in I recently reminisced about how over the past five years I was so busy caring for the love of my life that I didn't have time to care about her.  I hastily corrected my thinking by remembering that, especially during her illness, I never missed a chance to say "I love you."  Isn't that the ultimate in caring about someone?  It was for us.  It was easy:


Sitting in my easy chair,
out the window,
isn’t easy anymore.

Your empty chair
is all I see.

John A. Bayerl, March 11, 2011 

Every morning you are missing.  Every night you are missed.  The love I discover each day goes on forever, just like you said it would.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.  St. Mary Student Parish, where I am a member, serves The University of  Michigan student population.  Not surprisingly, the 7:00 p. m. mass was literally full to the rafters last night.  There's something about getting that black smudge on the forehead that has a pretty irresistible pull, even for busy college kids.  As a volunteer, I was asked to help distribute the ashes.  Put the thumb in a custard bowl filled with the ashes of burnt palm branches from last year, make a little cross on the forehead of the young person before you-- cute how some of them kind of smile shyly, some are very serious, none of them look bored.  Made an old guy like me feel a little younger for a while.  It was also nice to see old friends Ed and Paulette as well as new friend Mary.  To me, at the heart of  religion it's all about community made real.

Things shouldn't be so surprising anymore, but sometimes they are.  The words that are said while the thumb is tracing a cross on the forehead kept me aware of the urn on my mantel.  Each time I said those words to the person before me, I knew and felt their meaning at a much deeper level than ever before.  These are the words:

Remember, you are dust.
To dust you shall return.

A young married couple sat next to me  last night.  He held her hand, just the way I would have done with you last year, dear.  As we were leaving I thanked him for reminding me of what that love looks like.  He cried and hugged me.  Still hard to believe that last year I wheeled you up to the front and we both got black smudges on our foreheads.  A humbling reminder to live each day to the fullest for we know not when.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Those of us who have taken the long cancer journey know that it is aptly described as a roller-coaster ride.  Gwen and I loved roller coasters, but not the ride we were forced to take on this one.  Oh no, we would much rather that we didn't have to get on in the first place.  She is with me now in a different way as I travel the up and down contours of trying to recover from losing her physical presence.  Once again, these words come to mind: it will take as long as it takes.  I have to keep reminding myself of that.  It's finding that balance between weepy, whiny self-pity and falsely courageous false hope.  This is going to take as long as it takes.  Time means more that  Tears In My Eyes. 

This is a poem about this complicated process:


The raw mix has changed
a shift, one way or the other,
something’s been added
or subtracted,
there’s more this
less that.

The weeping subdued
and quiet.

You’ve been fooled before.

Round that corner,
you could be right back
where you started.

John A. Bayerl, March 7, 2011

Stay with me, dear, we'll learn to enjoy the ride. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Actually, this isn't a bright sunny morning.  Not yet, anyway.  I did see two robins in the yard this morning.  That must count for something.  Later this morning I'll attend the second to the last meeting of a bereavement group sponsored by Arbor Hospice.  In a way those six weeks have flown.  Many people don't find groups helpful, I do.  Gwen and I were both thankful for the support we received in three different groups we attended all during her illness.  She and I always looked forward to them, especially the ones that only met once per month; she'd get downright ornery if I ever suggested missing one of them.  The one that met weekly was our mainstay, I still have many friends we made there who continue to support me.

This goes all the way back to the third year we were married, when I attended graduate school in Portland, Oregon.  As part of the Institute I attended, those of us who were married attended groups with our spouses every week.  The spouses also got together in groups on their own on a weekly basis.  The sum of the whole is indeed greater than the sum of the parts.

This is a poem I've been working on.  It's about beginning to see a shift in how I feel about the loss of my perfect partner.  I still want her in my group, every single day, and am grateful that I had the chance to love her while I had her:


On a bright, sunny morning
like this one
I lie in bed
and enjoy no longer feeling

that suddenness about everything.
I enjoy no longer breathing

air moistened by tears.

It begins to seem
a little bit possible
that I’ll be able to think
about the day ahead.

John A. Bayerl, March 7, 2011

That love we shared goes on.  Those two robins had your name on them.  The family we created, our primary group,  such a source of strength.  All of our relatives, the friends we made, such a blessed group.

Monday, March 7, 2011


I need to add something and re-post this.  Yesterday was another first for me; I went to the movies, by myself, at the theater where Gwen and I always went.  I thought about calling a friend, but this was something I had to do by myself.  It was difficult at first.  I went into the theater and sat in one of the seats where she and I used to sit, the ones for people in wheelchairs and the like.  Just before the movie began, a young woman pushing her mother in a wheelchair came in.  I offered them my seat.  It felt really good doing that.  It used to irk us when non-handicapped people sat in those seats.  The movie I saw was Black Swan, I cried at the end.  I would have so enjoyed seeing that movie with Gwen.

My friend, Dave, sent me this poem.  What can I say?  It says it all:


The sorrow one feels after the loss
of a father, a daughter, a wife, is so
intense it takes up residence in
the soul's house, shares its pain
with a dailiness that can seem un-
bearable as you go through the mundane
acts that keep you human,
the little rituals that keep complete

numbness at bay. God knows
you wish you hadn't had to
take in this unwelcome boarder,
wish you could send him away
and gain back your composure.
And then, the sorrow goes.
"Gone" by Ronald Wallace, from For a Limited Time Only. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Those of us who mourn the loss of a great love, do not easily take in that unwelcome boarder.  If we hadn't loved so well when you were here, then I wouldn't miss you so much now.  Sounds simple, doesn't it?  We know better, don't we, dear.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


It snowed last night, time to get out and clear the driveway, it's March, for goodness sake, what are we doing with four inches of snow on the ground?  Just realized, that doesn't sound like someone who grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan talking, does it?  It was always nice to come in from out in the cold to have Gwen waiting with a cup of hot coffee and something she just  took out of the oven.  It's the little things that seem to break our hearts, isn't it?  Friends and former student would recognize a saying I've used in the past:  "It's not the mountains ahead that wear you out.  It's the grains of sand in your shoes."

Speaking of broken hearts, I had an annual visit with my cardiologist last week.  A little over a year ago I had a stent placed in one of the arteries in my heart.  Everything is fine now, the miracle of modern medicine.  In spite of all the miracles that are performed daily on heart muscles and arteries and veins, there still is no pill that will ease the symptoms of the absolutely broken-hearted feeling of losing a spouse. I've told others how surprised I've been by these feelings of loss and sadness that continue to invade my life.  You won't know what it feels like until you know what it feels like has become my mantra.  I was feeling a little whimsical after my visit with the cardiologist, and I wrote this:


Today was my annual visit
with the heart doctor.
Everything is fine
he said.

Get your cholesterol checked
take two baby aspirin.

Say, I wondered,
are there baby aspirins
for broken hearts,
the kind you get
when someone you’ve loved
for 50 years 

Take two of these.
You'll get on with life in the morning.

The best he could come up with,
the heart doctor,
 I’m so sorry for your loss.

That's no way for a doctor to talk.

John A. Bayerl, March 3, 2011

I'll try to be thankful, dear, that we enjoyed a relationship where we never ever came close to breaking each other's hearts.  What a blessing, even though it kind of hurts now. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I'm never quite sure what triggers them, but since her death I have had numerous "flash backs" to moments when Gwen and I had just begun our relationship.  More recent memories also flood my mind at times, especially the ones about her final hours; I think I have to keep re-living that until it becomes real.  It is hard, hard, hard to reconcile the finality and cruelty of death with so many remembered joys and passionate moments that were shared with the one who lay there cold and unmoving.  Of course, were it not for the memories, it wouldn't be so hard to do.  This is about a particularly fond memory of seeing a movie with Gwen for the first time:


I remember telling her
how cute I thought she was.
That sounds like a line,
she said.
She was like that,
never had to guess
where I stood with her.

Then  I asked her to
see a movie with me.
She got all flustered.
That didn’t happen often.

We held hands at the movie,
when we weren’t eating popcorn.

I don’t remember the name of the movie.
It was at a theater in Negaunee.

John A. Bayerl, March 4, 2011

 It wasn't a box of popcorn.  I shared a pineapple mango smoothie from MacDonald's with Gwen on her last night.  I held and stroked her hand then as I did in that theater in Negaunee.  Sharing love, feeding and nourishing it.  That began when I held her hand and kissed her for the first time. I don't feel like it ended when I held her hand and kissed her for the last time.

Friday, March 4, 2011


It's natural  to have some regrets when someone you have loved for so long dies, some remorse over things left undone, words left unsaid, promises not kept and the list could go on and on.  Gwen and I were fortunate and blessed to have had very good life together.  Lots of exciting adventures around the country in our early years, the joy of raising four children and being part of their accomplishments, spending time with our grandchildren, seeing their accomplishments;  in later life we traveled and saw the world, and even during the years when Gwen was sick we were able to have many trips, sometimes alone and sometimes with family.  Very late in our life, living in Marquette for six years, making friends there, being close to our relatives in the U. P., especially her mom and dad.  So, no regrets--except, I wish people had gotten to know Gwen better.  She really was a special person;  those who did get to know her are unanimous in agreeing to that.  Mr brother-in-law said it best; it's in the title and the last line of this poem


Friends, relatives and mere acquaintances
have all told me
they wish they knew her better.
They all seem to agree
she was someone special
in her quiet way
always a smile
a kind word.

They admired her spunk
when she saw injustice
as ready to fight
as she was to forgive.

Perhaps Bob said it best
double negative and all
there was nothing not to like about her.

John A. Bayerl, March 4, 2011

I'm having a bit of a rocky day, went to a restaurant this morning that Gwen and I enjoyed going to for breakfast.  Fond memories.  There are days like this when that overwhelming sense of loss and sadness is somewhat overpowering. Nothing complicated about it, I just miss that girl name Gwen.  Even an hour at the gym did little to help.  Gotta own it; some things have to be done by me alone.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


I try to keep busy.  Yesterday was no exception.  Workout at the gym.   My memoir writing group was exceptional.  A reporter and photographer were there do do a story.  We showed off a bit for them. Later last evening, dinner with friends from a support groups Gwen and I attended.

The most wonderful thing was my visit to the gift shop where Gwen bought me the faceless figurine a year ago last Christmas.  I had been near the place a couple of times, but couldn't bring myself to go inside, those "firsts" are always so hard.  Yesterday was no exception.  Wouldn't you know, just as I'm about to enter the store, a young woman pushing her mother in a wheelchair came trundling down the sidewalk.  I held the door open for them, just as I am sure someone did for Gwen and me.  I entered the store, bought a few things, among them a faceless figurine ornament holding a heart.  On the back it says "Held in the heart forever."  You'll like this, Gwen, it was 75% off.  As I was paying for the things I bought I had to tell the owner about the last time I had been in her store, with Gwen, and that Gwen died in November.  She had tears in her eyes as she hugged me and made me take a couple of chocolates for later. I know, Gwen, embarrassing.

Now that I have time, I find myself recalling and relishing these moments that at the time may have seemed so ordinary.  I think that how it works for me as I come to grips with the loss of my perfect partner.  Not an ordinary event by any stretch of the imagination was when Gwen and I decided to own a cottage on St. Joseph Island, about an hour east of the Soo in Canada.  Such fond memories:


Throughout our life together,
beginning with the spring night
when she said
you know what, John,
we should think about getting married,
all of my good ideas
were hers first.

Let’s get a cottage on an island in Canada.
We loved the cry of the loons.
owning a moon
that flat out bounced from the lake,
seeing stars we’d never seen.

Never thought I’d drive
a Honda Four-Wheeler
loaded with pudding stones.

The people were the best
Carmen and Linda
and their kids
best neighbors ever.

This spring I’ll go back
to visit St. Joseph Island
and the cottage we sold.
It will be hard
as are most things these days
that bring her near
but this one especially
the loons, pudding stones
the couch by the stove.

John A. Bayerl, March 3, 2011

Thank you, lover, for all of my good ideas that you gave me.  That one about getting married was a really good one.